CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood said on Saturday its newly formed party will contest up to half the parliamentary seats in an election scheduled for September but would not field a candidate for the presidency.
The group is regarded as the most organized political force in Egypt following the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak in a popular uprising in February and the dissolution of his National Democratic Party.
In a statement issued after a rare meeting of its decision-making shura (consultative) council, the group said it had decided to contest “between 45 and 50 percent of parliament’s seats.”
The Muslim Brotherhood expects to win up to 30 percent of votes in a free election. The group won 20 percent of parliamentary seats in 2005 but failed to win a seat in the 2010 poll which was tainted with allegations of fraud.
The Brotherhood said after Mubarak’s fall that it did not seek power through a majority in parliament and would not go after the presidency.
But its announcement is likely to alarm secular Egyptians who fear the group, eyed with suspicion in the West, might want to take control and turn the country into an Islamist state.
Analysts said the group could win about a third of the votes in the September election and emerge as the biggest bloc in parliament.
“The Brotherhood will certainly have a decisive influence over the debates of the assembly, its decisions and the formation of a new constitution,” political analyst and university professor, Mustapha al-Sayyid said.
“The Islamist group will have more power to block legislation it does not like more than passing new laws if they were largely opposed by other members.”
The Brotherhood is an Islamist group founded in the 1920s and has deep roots in Egypt’s conservative Muslim society. Though formally banned under Mubarak, it was tolerated as long as it did not challenge his power.
At a news conference on Saturday, the group’s secretary general, Mahmoud Hussein, confirmed that the group would not field a candidate in a presidential election, due after the parliamentary vote.
But Mohamed Mursi, the newly appointed head of the Brotherhood’s Justice and Freedom Party, refused to rule out contesting a presidential vote and said it was too early to discuss the party’s plans.
“When the brotherhood group says its party is independent it means it,” he said.
Mursi said the group will announce the program and regulations of its new political party this week.
The group named two of leaders, Essam Elarian and Mohamed Saed Elkatatny, to be the party’s deputy leader and secretary general respectively. The party’s three top officials will resign from their posts in the group before joining the party.
The revolution was ignited by online activists and brought together Egyptians from across the political spectrum, from Islamists to leftists.
Though the Brotherhood did not play a role organizing the protests at the outset, it was one of the main winners from Mubarak’s removal and has moved to the heart of Egyptian public life since he was toppled on February 11.
Writing by Sami Aboudi; editing by Robert Woodward